The three Republican candidates in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District at a recent debate forum split on whether Congress should pass a new round of stimulus funding to help the American economy weather a downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republicans oil executive Claire Chase of Roswell, former state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys took part last week in the hour-long debate forum hosted by the Artesia Chamber of Commerce and livestreamed on KSVP.
The forum, moderated by Gene Dow of Pecos Valley Broadcasting, was held as early voting has already begun in the June 2 Republican primary. The winner of the primary will go up against U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM, in November.
Despite a primary contest that has turned increasingly negative between Herrell and Chase, the three candidates largely refrained from attacks on one another, instead turning their attention to the pandemic. When asked about a possible second round of stimulus, Mathys and Herrell both said while they supported passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they are opposed to another massive spending bill.
The debate came a day before the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion economic relief package, was passed by the U.S. House Friday. All but one Republican and a handful of Democrats including Torres Small voted against the package.
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Mathys and Herrell pointed to concerns over the growing deficit as one of their prime reasons for being against more federal stimulus.
“And what this is going to end up being is a burden, a debt burden for our grandchildren and for future generations,” Mathys said.
Herrell said she supports funding for more personal protective equipment and backed the CARES Act, but said, “I am not in favor of any additional funding and the reason why is because we will then be looking at punishing states that have been fiscally responsible and then giving handouts to those that were not.”
Chase though said she wants to wait and see what is in a relief bill before declaring her support or opposition.
She added people should be careful about using the term “bailout” to describe the bills that have already passed, and said the legislation was meant to address an unprecedented situation created by the pandemic.
Directives from governors across the country required businesses to close and Chase said she thinks it is important those business owners and their employees be compensated for not being able to work.
“It is a really tough time for us, and we are in unchartered territory, so I think that is really important that we keep that in mind,” Chase said.
All three candidates agreed reopening the state’s economy at a faster and more aggressive rate than what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is offering is what is needed to help revive New Mexico’s ailing economy.
The debate came a day after Lujan Grisham unveiled a new modified public health order that relaxes restrictions on some businesses in most of the state, except for San Juan, McKinley and Cibola counties, which have seen a stubbornly high number of positive test results for COVID-19. The new order allows retail businesses to reopen at 25% of operating capacity as determined by the fire code, but leaves other types of businesses such as salons, dine-in restaurants, gyms and movie theaters closed.
State Republicans have criticized the new order, saying it does too little and does not more quickly allow more businesses to reopen in New Mexico, a criticism voiced by all three candidates at the forum.
The governor’s office did not respond to request for comment before press time Tuesday.
All three candidates said businesses need to be able to reopen at a faster pace.
“What they need right now is the green light to reopen safely,” Herrell said about business owners.
Mathys, who operates a lending business, said many of his borrowers are struggling to make their payments because they are unable to do business during the pandemic because of the public health orders put in place by the state.
“The key here is getting New Mexico back to work and for the governor to realize that every day we are idle it is costing us money and it is hurting Americans with small businesses,” he said.
Neighboring states like Texas have already reopened, Chase said. If New Mexico fails to do so more quickly, the state could lose out on receiving much needed revenue.
New Mexico is heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry for jobs and for revenue at the state and local level. That industry is suffering in part by directives issued in response to the pandemic.
“We do need to get people back in their cars, flying and consuming gasoline in order to drive up demand,” she said.
The candidates also leveled some criticisms of Torres Small, the water rights attorney from Las Cruces who was elected in 2018 by about 3,000 votes to represent the 2nd Congressional District, a sprawling district that includes Chaves County.
Herrell, who was Torres Small’s 2018 general election rival, criticized Torres Small.
“In my opinion she has not done a good job. She has done a great job of telling us one thing and then certainly doing something very different when she is in Washington, D.C.,” Herrell said.
Torres Small’s campaign pushed back citing Torres Small’s record of bipartisanship such as supporting Trump’s United States Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA trade deal, and working with Republican members of the House on issues such as securing U.S. ports of entry and increasing healthcare access at rural hospitals.
“Throughout her time in Congress, Rep. Torres Small has continually and effectively worked with Republicans, Independents and Democrats to deliver for New Mexico,” said Lauren Essray, a spokeswoman for Torres Small’s re-election campaign.
Mathys also accused Torres Small of not doing more to engage with New Mexicans and “hiding” during the pandemic, referencing her self-containment in her home for two weeks in March after she encountered someone who had COVID-19.
Lucy Prout, a press assistant with Torres Small’s congressional office, responded Tuesday to Mathys’ comment by releasing a list of links to news articles about actions Torres Small took and meetings she attended in March.
They included convening a call with the governor and southern New Mexico hospitals on March 24, hosting telephone town halls and pushing legislation to provide more resources to rural healthcare providers.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or firstname.lastname@example.org